CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steven Romano has a lot on his plate.
By day, he manages the GROW entrepreneurial program at Charleston Area Alliance, helping people start and cultivate businesses. In the evenings, he does the Superman costume change and suits up to teach kickboxing classes at two local gyms. Also in his busy mix, Steven is working on plans to start his own business.
When I learned that he grows a garden and cans his harvest, I knew we needed to chat outside the business classroom. I had a million questions, beginning with "Where do you find the time? Do you have time for an interview? May we photograph your canned peppers? Your garden?"
I was not prepared for his response: "I will teach you! Let's can together, I have everything we need, and I'm off on Thursday nights." I did not hesitate -- "Yes, Thursday, perfect!"
I've been cooking my whole life and began teaching my craft many years ago. Canning, however, has never entered my repertoire. Until that Thursday, and now I'm converted.
Steven and I had a ball in the kitchen. He brought his 'canning bible,' "The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving," and borrowed some simple canning equipment from a friend. We worked together, blanching, peeling and quartering market tomatoes, which were briefly cooked and then canned in quart jars. We also capped and smashed gem-like strawberries for jam. As we transferred the fragrant strawberry jam into smaller jars, Steven exclaimed, "Doesn't that just look good!"
We removed all of our hot jars from their canning baths and watched and listened for the lids to pop. "This is the really fun part! Because if the lids pop, that's when you know you've done it right. That's when you know you're a canner," he said.
Steven's philosophy is totally contagious. "I think it's absolutely fun! The whole home gardening thing is sweeping. You enjoy fresh produce now and can for later. It makes me self-sufficient. I'm home canning everything for Christmas presents."
There are books and guides and seasoned experts on the subject of canning. Team up with an experienced friend, get your hands on some great produce and do some canning. It's a rewarding project to conquer together and you'll have lots of food that's ready to quickly assemble into delicious meals.
Note: As I was writing, my mom called from Florida. "How's your column coming along," she asked. I explained the topic and, go figure, she had just finished canning her backyard mango harvest into chutney for Christmas gifts. 'Tis the season to do some canning!
Tomato Basil Bisque
Add some fresh baby spinach at the end of cooking to make a Florentine variation
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped